Lynn and I just spent the weekend on Orcas in a sea kayaking skill class. We spent two days learning the basics of sea kayaking on Cascade Lake in Moran State Park. Our private class was with folks from Body Boat Blade (BBB), a awesome kayaking center on Orcas.
I’d done some kayaking in my teens mostly on whitewater/river conditions. I’d had the advantage of having some formal classes to though these were almost 20 years ago Lynn’s experience was a little different – she had no formal training but had just completed a two week kayaking expedition up to Alaska with the USFS!
The staff at BBB were all extremely knowledgeable and very friendly. The name Body Boat Blade comes from the focus on teaching. First set your body position, the maneuver your boat and finally set your blade. Sounds pretty simple – the best thing is it makes sense and really works.
Our first day was with Shawna one of the centers co-owners. She was the first female kayak coach to get her 5-star BCU (British Canoe Union) coach certification in North America! Her teaching style worked really well for both Lynn and I. During day 1, we learned the basics of sea kayaks, different hull types, rudders vs. skegs (keel), kayak safety, basic paddling techniques: pull/push/slice and then applied this to forwards, backwards and sideways (sculling) strokes. We also reviewed "wet exits" (getting out safely while upside down!).
We did two types of wet entries (getting back into the boat). The first was a "one man" rescue called cowboy. The idea is to go to the stern (back) of the boat and then float almost face down in the water. This will make your body prone / flat. Then lift your body up onto the boat so you’re laying over the top with the boat resting on your hips. Then kick the rearmost leg over the hull as if you’re getting on a horse. Once there, inch forward to the cockpit keeping your weight nice and lot. The drop your bum into the seat, legs in and away you go Next step is to start pumping out water from the boat…
The second rescue was "two man". This is where you are helped back into your boat by another kayaker. Once you’ve dumped out into the water, turn your boat upright again (it’ll be filled with water at this point). The rescue boater than maneuvers into position so that a "T" shape is formed between the kayaks. Using the deck ropes, you then swim over to the rescue boat and hold on (did I mention keeping hold of you paddle?). The rescuer then pulls your boat up onto their deck, turns it upside down and then dumps water out of the cockpit. The sea kayaks we were using had sealed bulkheads which meant only water filled in the cockpit area. Once the boat is empty, the rescuer positions the boats side-by-side and leans across the boats to hold them securely in position. From a rear facing position, face down in the water, you then lift your closest leg up into the kayak cockpit. Then reaches over the deck with your closest arm and pulls yourself up onto the deck. This leaves you facedown on the boat. Then slides backwards into the cockpit, flips over to face in the right direction and plops into your seat
We spent day 2 of our class with Matt. He was also low key, easy going and extremely knowledgeable. His coaching style was very similar to Shawna’s and used lots of positive encouragement. Another thing I liked was the way both Shawna and Matt asked you to experiment with different ways of making a maneuver; rather than being told what works, you were made to feel the difference and essentially learn. Day 2 was spent doing a short review of all the things we’d learned on day 1. We then moved on and did more paddling work, learning to turn the boats using a technique called "edging", different types of support strokes, some cool steering strokes which allow you to steer at speed.
All in all, both days were great fun, the coaches were fantastic and we’re hooked!! We’ve got so much to learn but feel like we both made great progress over the past two days. The other thing we liked about the class was the attention to detail on all the gear – we spent a lot of time looking at boat design, paddles (straight vs. curved, short vs. long, small vs. large blade, etc). The gear was used was also top rate – boats from Nigel Denis (UK), dry suites from Kokotak, etc. Great to learn using top notch gear…
If you’re looking for kayaking classes or gear be sure the checkout the nice folks at Body, Boat and Blade.